John Petrovic is the author of A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in Education which we published this month. In this blog post, he tells us how he came to write the book.
I have always had an interest in languages and language policy issues. As an undergraduate, I majored in International Relations and had minors in Spanish and Russian. The so-called “Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan, never communicated with me about becoming Ambassador to Spain (my plan), so I pursued a Masters in Bilingual Education. Some years later, my doctoral dissertation was a liberal defense of bilingual education. A major influence was my study at the University of Barcelona during my undergraduate years. There, language policy issues were, and still are, front and center in national politics around official languages to the language of instruction in the university classroom. Inevitably, people proclaim their language rights at these levels and all levels in between and, I suppose, rightly so.
It is here that my two scholarly interests — language policy and liberal political theory — meet. Liberal political theory certainly provides us rights. But how can everyone enjoy language rights (at least in the way that I think a “right” should be understood)? As sympathetic to the work of Tove Skutnabb-Kangas as I have always been, this was still a question I struggled with for a number of years.
As my struggle continued, it only got worse when I began thinking about the debate around Ebonics (African American Vernacular) that had emerged in Oakland, California. If there is such a thing as language rights and language is what we speak, can’t the speakers of bad English (which is how critics and folk linguists refer to Ebonics) demand the same rights? My initial conclusion was “yes.” Certainly, liberalism requires this. Re-enter the annoying “but how” question. I had to back away from my initially adamant “yes.”
What I needed was greater clarity on language itself. I went back to de Saussure. Some clarity. Where it really hit me, however, was when I completed an edited volume — International Perspectives on Bilingual Education. In a chapter in this volume, Christopher Stroud revealed to me the way that liberalism shapes received understandings of language as a construct. With Aaron Kuntz, I worked through — and, I hope, added to in some interesting way — Chris’ thinking. The resulting article published in Language Policy formed a major piece to the puzzle. I combined this with a couple of other pieces that I had laying around and a picture emerged.
This book is that picture. It represents my thinking on language policy in education, on language rights, on language and identity, and the role of liberal theory in these matters…for now. Yet I am under no delusion that it is not missing pieces or that I did not force some pieces together. Puzzles are frustrating like that.
For more information on this book please see our website.